12 05 2008

Michiel (Dutch cyclist first met on the Carretera Austral) has found his way to Buenos Aires for a weeks rest before tackling the lagonas ruta in Bolivia. Oh, what’s that Michiel? Only if I go as well? I must admit it is a tempting offer, but I’ve got this ticket to Canada, and, well, you know, the altiplano in Bolivia is hard work. Good luck with the ride from Salta to Mendoza instead. Better alternative for a solo cyclista.

But Michiel is crazy about football, so we went out to see a match last night (one of 6 this week for Michiel). Originally we planned to see River Plate (one of the ‘Big Two’, the other being Boca Juniors) vs someone, but due to current events in the Cupa de Liberatodores we didn’t think this would be a very lively match. So instead, for a reason that still escapes me, we headed to San Lorenzo. This barrio(suburb) could generously be described as poor. We were a group of four (others from the hostel) with two fluent Spanish speakers, but it was possibly a little foolish (ie dangerous). Of course nothing happened, but we were all pleased to get back without an incident.

So San Lorenzo played Independentia (thanks for the reminder Michiel – I don’t pretend to memorise these things). We (ie San Lorenzo) lost: 0-1. I say we because our seats, or rather patch of concrete to stand on, was behind the home goal. It was rather an experience with the crowd singing most of the game, and clearly challenging the away crowd in the songs. I was impressed by the passion the crowed showed. This was only (I say only!) a club match, and San Lorenzo didn’t play so well, but the crowd was right behind the team. I get the idea that San Lorenzo are doing well in the Cupa de Liberatodores so I think the crowd kept reminding themselves of this – especially after the goal, which of course caused the away crowd to go nuts.

After the game I was a bit surprised that none of the home crowd moved. In Oz, there would be a great rush to be out of there. But for maybe half an hour they just sat there. Eventually the away crowd had all filed out to be packed into buses and escorted by police out of the suburb. It looks like this is normal, to avoid the post match hostilities. It worked pretty well, but meant we were on the street looking for a taxi at 2230, in a reasonably dodgy neighborhood. So we caught a bus.


Update: The nice Argentine/Canadian I set next to on the flight to Toronto was slightly horrified, and glad that we survived unscathed, when I told him we went to see San Lorenzo at a home game, and then sat with the supporters. The neighborhood is slightly more than dodgy…

The bike!

11 05 2008

Is gone. I wasn’t actively trying to sell it, but someone in the hostel heard it had to go and he wanted it. So, after 14,000km it’s not in the best shape (actually, I described it as a wreck when he said he might want it), but it should be ok to bash around the city for a while yet.

I had owned it for 274 days. That is the shortest time I’ve ever owned, and ridden to death, a bike (and averages at over 50km per day!).

Bye, bye, trusty steed.

Iguazu Falls

7 05 2008

Since leaving Buenos Aires, the twin main objectives have been to waste some time until the Canadian weather gets its act together and realises than it’s time to be warm. And visit the Iguazu falls.

One objective is complete. The falls are well worth such a huge detour. Since we had come so far to see these falls, we visited both sides, one side being in Brazil and the other in Argentina.

iguazu1Big solitary fallsI must admit to being slightly underwhelmed at the start of the view in Brazil. We’d just had a (verbal) fight (in ‘Russian’ or Portuguese, could be either) with the Brazilian guards about having to pay for the bus service in to the park even though not using the bus. [It’s not possible to enter without buying a bus ticket as well, don’t waste your time trying.] The walkway / viewpoints in Brazil at first only allow you to see some of the waterfalls on the Argentinian side (across the river). They are impressive, but worth several thousand kms? Not really.

Garganta del DiabloNot until later do you see the Garganta del Diablo (Devil’s throat) with is a U shaped thundering wall of excitement. And then, suddenly, it is worth the visit (if you can see anything through the spray). On the Brazilian side, there is a walkway on which you can stand in the spray of the falls, and have falls almost all around you. It is huge! But this is all I liked about the Brazilian side – I prefered the Argentinian side. Lots of walkways. Lots of view points. Lots of places for Stefan to take photos (>200!). Many smaller falls (less water, same drop) amongst the trees.

Group mug shotOn top of the Garganta del Diablo you can hardly hear yourself think. A phenominal amount of water pours over the falls, and sprays all over the place in a thourougly frivolous way. A wall of white noise. I tried to encourage a boat race over the edge – bit of a waste of time, you can’t see through the spray for about half the height of the falls. How would you know who won?

After a while of watching all that water it seems a little irresponsible to lose all that energy, and not, maybe do something useful, like turn it into electricity (spot the engineer…). Luckily just up the Paraná river (maybe 30km away) is Itaipu hydroelectric station that generates a lazy 14GW. The biggest hydro plant in the world, generating essentially all of Paraguays electricity and 20% of Brazils. We went there to have a look, but they wanted to shunt us into a bus and charge us to look at the dam wall. Not go inside the generating hall or anything exciting, just look at the outside of the concrete dam. Do I look so stupid? We looked from the road – it looks like a big dam(n) wall.

The Iguasu falls looks much bigger than Niagra (turns out it is), but maybe I’ll have to just have another look at Niagra in a week or so. And then see Victoria Falls. Could be a bit harder to get to Victoria falls though… Does this mean there is another trip to Africa coming up? Hmmm.

bluey2blueyAnd a bird we saw at the falls for Kev and Steve. Sorry, no idea what this guy is called.

Let’s just say it’s Bluey from Argentina.

butterflyI wonder if Sea to Summit would like to use this one – the butterfly was a bit crazy, it was trying to lick the dry bag. I guess it is a similar colour to it’s favourite meal. I’d never seen a butterfly’s tongue before. I don’t know why I would have, but I felt I should have.

Toronto is expecting mid-teens for a few days. Warm enough to visit? I guess it will have to do. Maybe a bit better in a week. Still working on the second objective.


7 05 2008

Brazil has been an amusing interlude. Possibly more amusing for the locals – I still cannot speak a sentence in Portuguese. I still call it “Russian”. If they speak too fast to me, I reply with “Russian russianrussianrussian”. Honestly, some of the sounds are more Russian than Spanish. Stupid Australian – still only speaks English.

10kkmFrom Morretes we climbed up into the metropolis of Curitiba via a back road. It rained the day we went anyway, so the cobblestones were wet and slippery. There were only two maniac drivers that tried to skid off the road, the rest were more sedate. But the scenery was pretty good – possibly amazing without fog. Lots of rain forest. Too wet for many photos. Stefan and Sabine hit 10,000km. Well done… 10,000km more to go Sabine!

With barely a pause in Curtiba (ok, a few hours stop) the three of us jumped on a bus to Foz do Iguaçu at the border of Brazil, Paraguay and Argentina. A long bus ride and a day later we were still in overcast conditions. So we did the only rational thing – find a place to sleep and wait for the rain to go away. It did.

Paraguay borderSo the next day we went bargain hunting in Paraguay. The weather wasn’t nearly nice enough to go and visit the falls. The oddest thing about this day (apart from the utter chaos of Ciudad del Este in Paraguay) was the border controls. From Brazil to Paraguay there was exactly zero control. That was a bit odd, but it meant I could enter, take a look around, tick Paraguay (otherwise a big hole in the middle of the continent I hadn’t set foot in) and not need to worry about a new visa or the return to Brazil. Whew. Lucky.

Ciudad del Este was chaotic, and Stefan and I ran out of steam and patience before hunting down a bargain. I probably should have been looking for a camera. Eh. Canada is fast approaching. I think they have them there as well.

The border crossing into Argentina began as simply as the one in to Paraguay – we had to go and ask for an exit stamp from Brazil. Normally you could just exit without hindrance. The Argentinian side looked more like normal, with a propper border control. The catch phrase of the day was “Everything is better in Argentina”. This was backed up by the cost and quality of accommodation, the food, the wine, the language (I can understand something again!), pretty much everything. Although after a day of consideration, the consensus was “everything is better in Argentina, except for the breakfast, fruits and beach chicas”. You can’t have expect one place to have everything.

So in a spirit of inquiry, after a strenuous ride of 13km and a border crossing, we tried the Puerto Iguasu offerings. A kilo of Bife de Lomo (fillet steak) and sides, for three. Almost as good as out west in Argentina. Everything is better here. Life could be so hard. I’m really starting to put weight on. Not to worry: I’m sure I’ll lose it in Canada again.

Morretes, Brazil

29 04 2008

This place is strange. We had beautiful weather for 8 straight days, and now, when we want to get back on the bike and do some riding, it rains all night and most of the day. A repeat performance of Matinhos. Except we have learnt from that experience (a week ago), and are just staying put until the rain stops. In the internet café, wasting time. YouTubing it up.

Whats that I hear you say? It’s only rain? Correct, and I don’t care. Being soaked all day isn’t much fun, and the road we are planning to take is cobblestones most of the way. Slippery when wet. Plus, this should be a road of good views – no point going there in ‘pea soup’ fog.

Ilha do Mel

27 04 2008

Could be translated (incorrectly) as the Island of Honey. It doesn’t really matter. I spend a week of this:

Riding on the beach

Trying (again) to surf

muy bien fish

Hard at work

Not a drop of rain (well, some overnight, but didn’t affect us). Some good fish. Plenty of doing nothing. 3 books in 2 days.

Hope you enjoyed your week 🙂

(Thanks Stefan and Sabine for the photos!)

Brazil. Rain?

20 04 2008

What’s going on here. It is not meant to rain on the coast of Brazil. Especially not when I’m here on hoiday.

Today I1m entrenched in an internet café. The bike is loaded and waiting outside ready to go when the rain stops. I wouldn’t mind a light sprinkle, but it’s coming down in buckets. The road is now flooded, but I don’t want to spend another day in this town (Matinhos). There is nothing to see; it is practically deserted. Think of the Gold Coast (4-5 story apartment style beach houses and pretty much no-one around). Not really all that exctiting.

Maybe it will stop raining soon. Maybe not.

+1hr. The water is now above the top of the gutter. Surely this can’t continue…
+1/2hr more. I can’t see the gutter any more. Where does all this water come from?
There’s a new river forming! I hope it doesn’t carry away my bike!

An evening in São Francisco do Sul

18 04 2008

I’m in São Francisco do Sul. The old town is nice – old buildings, cobelstone streets (hell to cycle on). What’s this? There’s a fiesta! The 20th festival of island traditions, or something. We expected great things, the whole island has been talking to us about this (that is all I could understand – I still think they are speaking Russian in Brazil).
Nothing really happened in the old town until 9. Before then we could buy the usual things from the craft stalls. Should we want to. Then we could grab something to eat and drink, and listen to some light music.
A parade of dancing starfish and 3m tall people with huge heads passed by. I still don’t get that.
A very good looking lass tried to sell us (in English!) a fair/fiesta in Gasper, down the road, next month. We’d cycled through the town a few days ago, and didn’t want to say that we weren’t going back. I couldn’t work our how to say it. Actually, when she first spoke (in Portuguese), we said we don’t understand. So she asked us if we spoke Spanish (in Spanish). We said ‘Si’! But she couldn’t (so why ask?). Then she switched to English. Everyone tells us that Portuguese and Spanish are so similar, so why does no-one understand a word of Spanish here?
The street filled with people (the festivities were confined to one street along the sea shore).
The main stage was occupied (by, it seems, the main act). They played some instantly forgetable 80’s covers and Portuguese songs, that were very well recieved by the kids. The singer appears to be a transvestite, or at least a cross dresser, appearing in leopard skin tights and pink feather boa to sing “Dancing queen” in a feminan voice. After YMCA and Rivers of Babylon (all essentially in English, but missing significant parts of what I remember of the lyrics), the second guitarist took over. I think he must have been chain smoking from birth to get that voice. It was a strange show – the lighting and equipment were pretty good, the music was good, but the singing and act were terrible. And the crowd loved it. I left about 11 – not wanting to suffer any more, and to beat the rain to the hotel.
Maybe there’ll be a fiesta I can dance along at up the road…


13 04 2008

It’s hot here. The hills have begun, and everyone seems to be speaking Russian. At least they may as well be speaking Russian, Greek or even Chinese.

I cannot speak Spanish, but I can get by (present tense only, nothing too complex). I’d love to know more, and I will learn more. However, it turns out that a smattering of Spanish isn’t going to be enough in Brazil. Portuguese is impossible! Jessica, how do you do it? And why does it sound like Russian to me?


12 04 2008

Ok, I cheated again. But I figure the ‘pure’ bike trip is over and now I’m doing my best to enjoy myself until it warms up in Canada. Today they’re going for 12°C, so it’s getting there. Still a a way to go.

I finished my ride across Uruguay. Punta del Diablo did hold me captive for one more day. Kind of funny, I don’t normally like just relaxing by the beach, but it’s so nice there, and it was kind of novel talking ‘Oz’ again. I couldn’t help it.

The border posed a small problem: I arrived at the consulate (to get my visa) 30 mins too late, at 1pm. This meant I had to overnight in Chuy. Not the highlight of the trip, but there have been worse towns. Other than that, and the fee for the visa, everything went smoothly (definitely not whinging about the visa – I’m still outraged about Australia’s visa requirements).

Stefan and Sabine have been camped out here in Campeche (near Florianopolis) for a week. So I jumped on a couple of buses and came up to meet them. Another chilled out beach spot. Stefan has been taking surfing lessons, Sabine and I bashed about a volleyball for a while. We sat on the sand. Cooked up a 1.5kg fish for dinner. Found out we could do with more, so added some prawns. Kind of hard work.

We will head for a different, possibly equally idyllic, beach tomorrow. Maybe with more surf. Perhaps I’ll take a crack at surfing again (Lessons? Who needs lessons? :)).

And I want to go back to work?

Coast of Uruguay

7 04 2008

I knew there would be large distances after Montevideo, and possibly not much to see. There was and wasn’t, respectively. So I put in some big days and shot across the country, day one to just past Punta del Este, and day two to Punta del Diablo (Devils Point). Big is between 150 and 180km per day. See the map.

Some of the riding was along the coast, party through eucalyptus plantations (it is great to see my trees!), but mostly past dairy farms. So lovely and blue, woody, or green. Really it is pleasant countryside, but not overly exciting for a cyclist. It would have been heaven on a motorbike. The tarmac is very good here. Several bikes screamed past during the day (as well as plenty of mopeds puttering along). I wished one of them would let me hang on.

The weather has been exceptional. I took a day off cycling in Punta del Diablo, but I might just take another. Apparently this is the off season by the coast (thank goodness, I hate crowded coastal towns). It’s great here! Blue sky, not a cloud in the sky. The sea is warm; there is even a bit of surf. Air temperature up around 30°C. The hostel is pretty good too. Enough different people – I’ve met some other aussies for a change. If Brazil turn me around at the border, I think I’ve found somewhere to kill some time, err, profitably occupy myself.

I can’t show any photos (no camera), but I can offer a different sense of the place. The prevailing sound is the crash of the waves (or music after dark); the water is warm and the sand and water full of shell grit (it gets everywhere!), the sun on your back feels great. The clean smell of the sea is welcome down at the beach, and there is a strong, lingering sickly sweet (not tobacco) smell after dark. It is touristy, but more of a chilled out beach place. Lots of foreigners – I was expecting more Uruguayans.


3 04 2008

It would be in your (and probably my) best interests if you just ignore everything below. Perhaps pretend you’ve read it. I think my brain has taken a holiday.

Uruguay started promisingly. The first day of riding to Colonia was pleasant. Nothing too stressful, a nice change of scenery – lovely green rolling fields. A few cows. Reasonably flat.

Colonia (del Sacramento) is a lovely little place on the river across from Buenos Aires, old buildings and nice café. The sunset is spectacular – the sun melts in to the river, right alongside the skyline of BsAs. But the old town is easily explored in a few hours, and left the next day. I thought I could make Montevideo in one day (only 180km). And did, but I’m still feeling it, two days later. One reason to make the trip in just one day, is the country is boring. Let me add a few o’s to that. Booooooring. Perhaps some emphasis. Booooooring. Flat and green is nice for a half day or so, but after hundreds of kilometers… Did I mention it is boring?

I had hoped to get a bus up into Brazil, and bypass some of the boring bits in the south. But the Brazilian consulate in Montevideo has other ideas about issuing visas to trouble making Australians. Clearly I must be a potential troublemaker – no other country in South America has had a moments problem with letting me in. The best advice (from the consulate) I have now is to ride to the border and see what they say.

That will be a great laugh:
“Can I come in? Err, without a visa?”
“Why don’t you have a visa?”
“The consulate said he couldn’t give me one without bus or plane tickets showing how I would enter and exit the country. I have a bike – I don’t need a ticket to ride my bike”
“Why don’t you have a ticket to leave the country?”
“Errr, hello. Bike.”
“No. Go away and get a visa. You trouble maker on wheels”.

“But its 350km (boring!) back to Montevideo!”
“You think we care?”

Actually, I expect they wont have a problem with letting me in at the border, but you never know. I will be pretty annoyed if I get turned back now – after having gone through all the work to apply for the visa and being rejected. Do they think I want to stay there? I have a ticket to Canada after all!

And on that, I bought a ticket to Canada (in part to make the visa application for Brazil easier). I’m flying to Toronto in mid May. Not the original plan of heading to Vancouver – on the wrong side of the country in fact – but a start. I decided to not use my frequent flyer points to get an essentially free ticket. Another part from normal Steve behaviour (whats going on here?). But I had reasons, or at least one: The US make transiting through their country as much of a headache as wanting to stay there for months. I turns out that technically I could not transit through the US without having a ticket, not just out of the US, but out of Canada as well. This is despite having a visa that allows me to land in Canada on a one way ticket. So, if the US immigration official was having a bad day, it would turn into a very uncomfortable week for me as well. Does everyone assume that I’m going to try and live in their country, steal their welfare?

Personally, I think we should have grown beyond all this visa crap. I think it way too much of a pipe dream to ask to start to break down the borders around the world (hang on, haven’t they started to do this in Europe?). They appear to be heading in the opposite direction over here. Never mind, just so long as they let me in. A few extra (well many) bucks to jump over the US may be worth it in the long run.

Another behavioural deviation. Today I met up with Stefan and Sabine again for a wander around Montevideo (did I mention that for some reason Germans are not considered trouble makers, and can just go right into Brazil?). We had a pleasant stroll, looked at some old buildings. Had a nice lunch – I always seem to have big chunks of cow to eat when Stefan is around… And then, we got fleeced. I’m a little embarrassed to tell the truth. Some guy managed to get our confidence, and we voluntarily handed over cash for some football match tickets. He went off, and we never saw him again. Surprise, surprise. Now it wasn’t much money, but more that we’d spend on lunch. It was terribly galling, we simply are not that gullible. Well, clearly we are. I can only claim that my brain has taken a temporary leave of absence. Hence my comment that you should ignore all I’ve just written.

Time to watch the football match on television. We’ve paid to watch the damn thing once, let’s at least see who wins 🙂

Where am I?

30 03 2008

Back on the bike and I’ve left Argentina. It’s strange, I’ve only crossed the river, but it feels much different here.

The Buenos Aires suburb, or adjoining city, of Tigre is actually really nice. It’s very well maintained, with plenty of parks and canals. If BA is the Paris of South America, then Tigre must be the Venice of Buenos Aires. I was surprised at how big Buenos Aires is. I shouldn’t be, with a population of over 13 mil, they need 40km solid of houses. The road situation left me a bit cold though, I got sucked into a motorway at one point, stopped to ask a policeman for directions and was told to keep going. 10 minutes later I was shepherded off onto a tiny side road by another policeman.

I crossed by boat from Tigre to where-ever-I-am-now, Uruguay. This meant weaving through lots of canals along the mouth of the Rio Plata delta. This was a sunny Sunday afternoon, but I was shocked at how many boats were out there. Rowing boats and canoes were thick close to the port of Tigre, then there was a flotilla of sail boats, and then a mixture of huge power boats (expensive ones too!) and dingies with jet skis charging around playing on the wake. Amazing. The water is a horrible brown colour – it must be mostly mud from further up the river, but it doesn’t look altogether healthy. I won’t be swimming in there.

A good start for Uruguay: I don’t know the name of the town I’m in. It could be Carmelo, or Carmen. I think it starts with a “C”. It’s warm and humid here, balmy almost, distinctly different from BsAs. I guess I’m slightly closer to Brazil and the Amazon, but I didn’t think it would change this quickly. It’s more like I expected towns around here to be, it’s well after dark and the small center plaza is crawling with people. I didn’t see this as much in BsAs, it was more people going to a club or bar, rather than just hanging out.

The Uruguayan’s are friendly. So far. At least they let me in without any hassles, and pointed me at a hotel. The hotel owner was most helpful. He took me to a room, which looked quite nice and then proceeded to rattle of a price that had several more zeros than I was expecting. I realised I didn’t have a single Uruguayan Peso, and indeed didn’t have the first clue what the exchange rate might be. Slightly under-prepared, you might say. It’s all sorted now.


29 03 2008

Buenos Aires is actually very nice. It’s been described as the Paris of South America, but I think it might actually be nicer than Paris. At the very least it is far, far more affordable. But I think my time here might be over. Stefan and Sabine left for Uruguay this morning.

The problem is, there is so much of the continent still to see. And then there is Central America, and North America. Indeed I’ve barely scratched the surface of the world. Since bike traveling is pretty cheap, and I’m not yet hitting any financial constraints, what to do next is actually causing a problem. Too many options you see.

I think I will go for a quick tour of Uruguay to begin with. At least one report on the South American touring links page suggests it is quite nice. Flat and reasonably nice will be good for a few weeks. Then there may be a bus ride to Iguazú (a rather big falls in the north in Argentina), and then… well, the options just keep on coming. Brazil is right there. And what a big country it is (similar area to United States)! So what if most of it is jungle.

I was keen to get to Canada, but really why would I go there while it is still cold? Maybe I’ll take the opportunity to see a bit of Brazil while I’m so close. Dangerous tactic though, if I just keep going, then I’ll end up cycling to Canada and miss out on the work permit 🙂 Then I wouldn’t have to work for a while longer… Hmm… Another option. And none clearly better than the last…

Buenos Aires

27 03 2008

It’s a big city.

I don’t really like big cities. But… this one has some charm. Actually bucket loads of charm, and plenty of character. We’ve camped out in San Telmo, in a small hostel. It’s already been almost a week(!) and I’m still getting a feel for the city. I’m torn between leaving (because I’ve been stationary for so long) and staying (because this city is so big and really deserves more exploring). Which will win? That will partially depend on how the job applications in Canada go.

I had a bit of bad luck while I was updating my resume (which felt weird – I don’t feel like I’m on holiday any more, but for sure don’t feel like I should be working!). Just about to leave the internet cafe, I noticed my bag had… gone. Bugger. Some brat had stolen it, from between my legs! There was a kid who was hanging around, the owner got onto him, and asked him what he was doing, and then the kid left- I assume this was the culprit. The biggest bummer was my camera was in there, but I hadn’t taken many photos since I’d last copied the card onto DVD, and Stefan had also taken lots with his SLR (and I can copy those). Actually, I was most surprised with how much I have changed in the last year. All of my friends in Oz don’t need to be told how I would have responded a year ago (pretty angry would be putting it mildly). But I accepted the loss much more readily than I though I would have. I searched the internet café, then the close streets, checking the bins. And then, well, it was gone. What’s the point in getting angry as well? Hopefully the insurance will cover some of it. But if not… well, I wasn’t attacked, my health hasn’t been affected, it’s not that much money gone – and really, after 8 months in South America, I’ve been pretty lucky not to have had anything stolen yet. But, with a a bit of luck, that’s the first and last.

I’ve changed my normal ‘explore a city’ routine, and have basically tagged along with Stefan and Sabine. So we’ve ridden around to see some of the city and parks, walked through countless fairs and markets, out to La Boca, sat and watched lots of outdoor Tango shows, been caught up in a street protest and even gone shopping. It’s been pretty good, I like the city. It feels a little like Paris to me – many buildings in a similar style to what I remember of Paris. This may sound nasty, but I’m kind of glad the Argentinian economy fell apart in the 90’s – the city hasn’t been spoiled by many towering skyscrapers. I’m sure they’ll come as the economy becomes more powerful. Right now, everything is reasonably priced for me (read: cheap), and it was a bit of a surprise to learn that 20 years ago this place was as expensive as New York or Paris.

Last night Sabine dragged us out to a Tango show/course. Well, that’s not quite true; I went willingly and was keen to try it out. I think with a bit of practice I could even get the basics – after an hour lesson I could dance a simple pattern. I was amazed that several of the girls who came were worse than me! Can you image that! I even had my toes stepped on 🙂 I was impressed. Perhaps I’ll try again…

Stefan and Sabine are doing their best to get rid of me (and about time too). They’ll be off to Uruguay at the weekend. I may also go that way, but with a different boat, and a slightly different destination. But I think I’ll be back here. If nothing else, to fly north…

Ushuaia to Buenos Aires

24 03 2008

That was much quicker!

Stefan, Sabine and I didn’t really enjoy Ushuaia. Partially this was because we thought everything was overpriced, but I think it was mostly because the weather was bad. It rained or was very overcast every day. Pity. We did get one good view of the mountains that tower over the city – while we were at the airport waiting for the flight. I think we spent more time in the internet café than nearly anywhere else. But when it is raining, cold and generally miserable, what can you do?

Well, you can ride down dirt roads to the end of Ruta 3… I had to go as far as I could! I got a face-full of mud for my trouble, and ended up cleaning the bike in the rain, but now I can say I’ve been to the end of the road.

We briefly tossed up the possibility of busing up to Buenos Aires. But the two or three buses would have summed to around 50 hours for the 3000+ kms. Or, for about 50% extra, we could get there in 4 hours. I didn’t really have any need or desire to be fast, but the thought of avoiding such a long time in the bus had (even me) reaching into the pockets for a bit more cash.

The flight from Ushuaia to BA was reasonably uneventful. That is, until we tried to land. I’ve been on a few commercial jet flights. But not once have they had to abort a landing. As we approached we could see the storm, there was a huge cloud front and plenty of lightning. It was pretty obvious that the wind was strong; the plane was bouncing around all over the place. The pilot tried to bring us down anyway, was over the runway just about to touch down and a gust of wind took us off to the side. This was no zephyr. With a scream of engines, we were given a second chance to look at this storm, from above. We cruised around for a while over the city (quite low) and were given a bit of a tour. We flew over to the domestic terminal and landed there instead. A bit of a bonus for us – instead of a 35km trip to the city center, we now had only about 4km.

Moments after the plane had parked, another plane attempted to land. Still sealed in the aluminium tube, we heard it approach, and then the scream of engines as it too, aborted the landing. It is rather disconcerting to see a plane, maybe 20m of off the ground sailing along at what can only be described as a jaunty angle. It may suit a tango dancers fez, but for a plane it just looks silly. The storm had obviously reached the city, just after us.

And what a welcome to BA we got! After the good luck of changing airports closer to town, riding the rest of the way was now a possibility. We loaded the bikes, and went out to discover the heavens had opened. It was pouring! We chose to ride anyway. A little rain can’t hurt, right?

Well, we got drenched. My shoes were full of water in maybe a minute. It was raining hard. It looked like the storm caught everyone off guard – many, many beach-goers were sheltering in bus stops all along the road (this was Good Friday). Apparently this weather is not all that normal.

We’ve now had a mixture of hot and muggy, and rain with thunderstorms some nights since we’ve been here. But it has been warm, which is more than I can say for Ushuaia, or Canada for that matter.

I was thinking of heading up to Canada fairly quickly from here – direct flights don’t look all that expensive to Vancouver. But perhaps I’ll give it a month or so… It looks like it might get to 10°C on Tuesday. Brrrr. I don’t have the clothes (or the desire rigth now) for that kind of weather!

So it may not be the end of the bike trip just yet… Uruguay is just across the river from here. The falls of Iguazú are a mere 18 hour bus ride north (too far to cycle in a short time, me thinks). And… is that Brazil I can see on the map just over there? Ol and Jess – where are you? Why are you not in Brazil – I’m ready to visit now!

Tierra del Fuego

18 03 2008

The land of Fire
aka Tierra del Viento – the land of wind. Bit of a naming mistake, way back when. I didn’t see one fire.

ferry-in-punta-arenas.jpgWe finally left Punt Arenas, like penguins after the feeding season. Actually, nothing like the penguins, we didn’t waddle and were scared off by a 9am ferry ride. So we ended up staying an extra day to get the 15:30 ferry. A much wiser idea when it’s cold out in the morning 🙂 And it meant we could extend our feeding season by one day. I don’t think they will run out of salmon.

statue-in-porvenir.jpgWe had planned on a huge day of 10km to get to the ferry and stay in Porvenir. But when we arrived the light was so nice and the weather calm, so we just couldn’t stop in the town – we had to take advantage of this magical light and get a little way into the island. We took the slightly longer coast road for the views, and it was pretty good, in a flat and boring kind of way. Tierra del Fuego has a remarkable lack of really anything at all. Maybe a few sheep. But, like the ocean can be nice to look at, the scenery here isn’t so bad. It’s just that there is so much of it. On no account am I riding back to Buenos Aires – I think that would do your head in.

what-wind.jpgSo we camped wild for two days, with hardly any wind. Where was this famous Patagonian wind? Perhaps it had taken a year sabbatical and gone to Europe? I was fully expecting being blown to pieces every single day, based on others reports and the shape of the trees. These trees must take some pretty severe battering over the years; they have no branches on the windward side, and grow horizontal above a few meters. But there wasn’t so much wind while we were there. I think cyclists have a remarkable ability to take credit for powerful legs when they have a tail wind (wow, aren’t we riding fast today) and go into hysterics when the wind is from the front (but it’s always a headwind, honestly, we haven’t had a tail wind for <insert improbable time span here> days/weeks/months). Or it just wasn’t all that windy while we were heading east across Tierra del Fuego. Yes, east is with the prevailing wind, and despite the above comment, we did manage to cop a slight headwind on our crossing. Pity we didn’t get the tearing tail wind we’d been assured of.

But we did manage to cross from the Pacific to the Atlantic in slightly over a day. Quite an impressive feat pretty much anywhere else on the continent. I saw the Atlantic for the first time in years, and the first time from the west. It looks the same.

flat.jpgflat2.jpgAnd with the crossing of the island came Argentina! Back once again. The passport is starting to fill up with stamps from crossing between Chile and Argentina. The asphalt began literally at the border control, and we had a pretty easy run into Rio Grande (notice I didn’t mention the landscape on that quick jump of 90km? Now that I have, it was remarkably different from the day before – instead of the ocean on the right and boring pampa on the left, it was ocean on the left and boring pampa with gas and oil pumps on the right. A considerable change you will agree). The city has a grand name, but that’s where all grandness ceases. But the hostel was nice (El Argentino), and I found Jörg and Rahel’s names in the register and the comment book. Strange to see their names two weeks ahead of me, instead of us travelling together. Actually, we seemed to be following them, we managed to stumble into the same place they stayed in Tolhuin also.

12k.jpgIt was a long day into Tolhuin, but reasonably fast since we had some tail wind. Really, where is this killer wind? Also, aside the road was a four-wheel motorbike track, all the way, and it continued most of the way to Ushuaia. Motorbikes and four-wheel bikes are pretty popular here.

The center of Tolhuin is, for sure, the bakery. This bakery made it into the travel guide. And the whole town and most of Rio Grande seemed to be there. So, of course we had to sample, err, gorge on the offerings. We actually considered going further (a crazy idea), but were unable to move far after eating many empanadas, facturas, and even some bread. tolhuin.jpgJust can’t get enough bakery after a day on the bike. Some things don’t change. After looking around at several overpriced hostels and cabins in the town of Tolhuin, we were, reluctantly, forced to seek out the campground. It was pretty cold, and threatening to rain. But it turns out we chose well, we were able to “camp” in a hut, complete with fireplace – really it was a cabin without beds. Warm and dry, and it did rain overnight. Heavily. Lucky.

We tossed up the idea of staying another day, but we were all keen to hit Ushuaia. The rain stopped by the time we had risen, but the wind had not realised it was cycling time, and time for the wind to sleep. So we coped a day of head wind. It was pretty strong, but nothing like the wind further north (blowing us from the road). Perhaps we were lucky. We were still able to make the distance we wanted, it just took a bit longer.

So we rode around the lake and into the final valley. One last crossing of the Andes (the pass was a monstorous 420m!). Up, around and down, into Ushuaia! Yippee! Took the end of the road photo. Got cold, and found a place to sleep. Actually the last one was the hardest. Ushuaia is clearly a tourist oriented town – with prices to match. We celebrated with an all you can eat feast.ushuaia.jpg

So now I’m here. Errr. Now what?

Well, to start with I could kill 2-3 days sitting in a bus to get to Buenos Aires, or I could catch a plane. So plane it is. Time to look around Buenos Aires. Perhaps without the bike. Actually, I think I’ll try to sell it. Anyone out there want a bike that’s done a mere 12,000km?

Torres del Paine

5 03 2008

choc-fondue.jpgWe have just had lunch. A little more civilised than a sandwich. Chocolate Fondue. Maybe a bit rich. Actually, hideously rich: I have a headache and don’t think I can eat tonight. But I’ll try. The joys of being in a city 🙂

pampa.jpgBut back to the trip: Southern Patagonia. In general it’s flat, windy, and pretty dull around here. (And it never seems to rain. Or is that Southern California?) For those that might disagree, on the bus you miss the greatest area of Patagonia, by blasting through it. But trust me, the majority is pretty dull. Unless you happen to like flat, featureless expanses of land – like the people I’m travelling with seem to do. If you do like that, come to Australia. You can also see sheep there.

But (and this is a big but) there are some parts that are simply stunning. Unfortunately, this is also where the buses tend to stop and hordes of tourists (yes, like me) jump out and tramp around. The Carretera Austral, Fitz Roy, Perito Moreno, and further south Torres del Paine. There are other parts I’m sure, but the cyclist trail hits these highlights. A few times we’ve come out of the Andes, and onto the pampa because that’s the way the road goes (and there are not so many options when it comes to roads around here). I suspect there is not too much coming up further south, but Tierra del Fuego is supposed to be interesting. In a flat kind of way.

siesta.jpgFrom El Calafate the group – still Michiel (Holland), Stefan and Sabine (Germany) and I (stupid Australian who only speaks English) – rode west and south for a couple of days. The first day was a little windy, we were scooting along at up to 50km/h on the flat (ok, when we were racing). Fully loaded. That’s much more like it. I think on a road bike, unloaded, with fresh legs, you could keep up that speed all day. Seriously windy, and from the correct direction (behind). We felt sorry for the two French, Mitch and Virginie who were battling into the same wind to visit the glacier. We managed to make a few more kilometers than we’d planned, despite the road turning more or less into the wind at the end of the day and the lunch stop (pictured). So we made it back into Chile in only two days, despite fearing it could take longer – many cyclists skip this section of road because it is just too windy (especially going north) and there is nothing to buy along the way. Even getting water is difficult.

We spent the night in a ditch by the side of the road just outside Cerro Castillo (Chile). It was a pleasant ditch, deep enough that our tents didn’t get ripped to pieces by the wind. This is also the first and last townvillage in Chile before the Torres del Paine National Park. Most hikers stop in Puerto Natales, buy food and then get a bus to the park. We didn’t want to have to go there and then back, so we made do with the provisions we could buy. Which wasn’t much, but we’re getting used to pasta and red sauce every night. It keeps us alive. Just.

Based on the distance we’d made the last few days I thought getting to the park the next day would be no drama at all. Until we got out of the tent and were almost knocked down by the wind. Luckily, we didn’t need to ride directly into the wind (often) so we could manage an almost respectable 50km in 4 hours of riding before we were exhausted (a lot of that distance came in the last hour!). There may have been a few occasions when it was simply too windy to ride. It is a little disconcerting to feel a strong gust of wind, suddenly be in the ditch on the other side of the road and then covered in dust as a bus passes by. Most of the traffic was very understanding as we weaved our way down the dirt road, and gave us plenty of room. We stopped at Laguna Amarga – right before the entrance to the national park. We voted the water undrinkable – even after filtering there was a milky precipitate when we boiled it. God knows what chemical is in there. We got a pretty good view of the Torres from there, except with cloud. But we thought it was pretty good.

The next day we cycled even slower than the day before through the park. The cause this time was not the wind, but the mountains and the view. We took quite a few photos. We thought that we’d probably seen all we needed of the park until we arrived at the only car camp ground. While considering going a bit further, out of nowhere two Swiss cyclists that Sabine and Stefan had met on and off since Bolivia (but never ridden with) got out of a car. So, of course, we had to stay. Petra and Reto had just finished walking “the circuit”, a lap around the Torres del Paine and adjoining mountains. As cyclists they knew what we’d already seen and offered the advice that going to visit the glacier Grey and cycling the way we had just come was probably all we needed to do. So we adjusted our plans accordingly. The plans changed again though.

condor.jpgMany condor photos later, and a sunset and sunrise (I’m over sunrise photos) we said a final goodbye to “The Swiss” as they’ve been described to me. They’ve run out of money and are going home via the Galapagos Islands (possibly the most expensive thing a cycle tourist can do in South America – go figure). Now we have My Swiss (Jörg and Rahel), My Other Swiss (Brandley-Fisch) and The Swiss (Petra and Reto). And a few other The Swiss that require further explanation when brought up in conversation.

Everything is outrageously expensive in the national park (for Chile), but we had no choice – things are definitely set up for bus tourists arriving from Peurto Natales. We also hadn’t seen a Chilean bank since part way down the Carretera Austral, so supplies of Chilean Pesos were running low. We stretched the remaining lot pretty thin and just made it. Changing US$ cash was possible, but at an even more crazy price. So we stocked up on food and piles of biscuits, basically what we could get our hands on and afford. They ran out of bread. A minor disaster.

We left our bikes at the park administration, loaded all we would need for a few days, and were about to leave when a youngish park employee stopped us. It turned out he was a tourism student doing his practical experience before finishing his degree. Antonio took a look at Michiel and I stuffing all our gear into my two day packs, and ran off to get us a rucksack we could borrow. What luck! A good rucksack! It was bigger, and hence heavier (after we put more of the group gear in there), but Michiel decided that he far preferred the harness and would take the heavier pack from the second day onward. What more luck! Perfect for me! “You want to carry the heavy pack? Be my guest.”

So we hiked out of the administration area, on the long walk in (to avoid an expensive ferry shortcut). Stefan with a crazily heavy pack (cans on a hike – what was he thinking?) with no waist strap and Sabine with a similar style pack, just less crazily heavy. Michiel and I with basically a day pack each, I think I only had a bit more than 12kg for most of the trip. Pretty good.

Torres Walk inThe walk in was in almost perfect weather. We seem to be getting more than our fair share of good weather down here. Of course, I’m not complaining. Good views of the (relatively small, but dramatic) mountain range of the Torres del Paine. Apparently it is not a part of the main Andean range. Different muscles being used. We’re reasonably fit by now, so it wasn’t a big drama, and we didn’t go very far each day. The campground surprised me. I didn’t realise I would be sharing the trail with quite so many gringos. But there you are. Possibly the most popular park in the region, so of course there will be plenty of people there. I should have expected this. What I wasn’t expecting was the hotel and store at each of the big campsites. This is hiking? Come on. But it makes it easier. We even had a hot shower twice in the week. Luxury.

Softies hiding from rain… in Patagonia!We had some rain on day two, so we sheltered in the camp kitchen like softies until it had passed. And then headed up the first valley to see this Glaciar Grey. There are two main walks in the park. One is the circuit (7-9 days), the other is the ‘W trek’ (about 5 days) that visits the three main valleys, and all the highlights. We started to just visit the glacier, but decided to do an extended W after three days. The weather was pretty good, and we were enjoying the hike.

glacier-grey.jpgWe camped in a free campsite (the downside of serviced campsites is, of course, the cost). One of the few in the park – we found and used two more, later. The camp was right above the glacier. This one was far less active on the leading edge than the others had been, but we had a completely different perspective. We were about 100m above the glacier and could see all the way back to where it began. It’s strange really. I’m still a bit surprised that we spent two nights there. But it is a pretty special place, and we walked up to a lookout (the biggest pass on the circuit walk). Wrapped in cloud and blown about, we came back and watched as the sun came out from out lookout near the camp (Campamento Los Guardas if you’re interested). Yep, I like glaciers.

stevo.jpg <- “The Strange Australian Animal” glacier watching. Keep your eyes peeled folks, it might race away any century now.

The sun was shining, Sabine wasn’t whole hearted in her wishes to go back to the bikes, we’d met Marinka (Dutch) on the track who was going on… We couldn’t stop now! We had some food left (ok just pasta, some oats and chocolate biscuits), stocked up at the main store on the track, and headed on to Valle Frances. tdp-sunrise.jpgAnother glacier, hanging, with frequent avalanches to a secondary glacier below. The first few startle you a bit – it’s a big noise! On the way up we met Mitch and Virginie again. They had arrived and were hiking the same way as us, but had got slightly in front because of our obsession with the big glacier. We camped at the top of the valley (another free campsite, Campamento Británico – partially because the cash reserves were now extremely tight and partially because we thought we’d get another good sunrise from there). The sunrise was rubbish, all cloudy, but worth the risk, and the campsite was almost empty because of the extra effort required to reach here – a bonus for us. So we went back to sleep after sunrise, and didn’t manage to leave until 3 in the arvo. I’m not sure where that day went, but I wasn’t tired for a change. The rest of the day back down the valley, and one more around to the camp below the Torres. An early start to view sunrise on the main attraction of the park. We had pretty good luck (again), with nice colours on the rock for sunrise, and a completely clear sky just after (a bit annoying though – we saw the sunrise from a distance the next day, and it was cloudless, oh well). The towers are quite impressive, and well worth a walk to go and see them. However, I rather liked Fitz Roy in Argentina, for several reasons. Ahh, what am I saying, they’re all different, and all spectacular.

tpd-steve.jpgThe towers came out to play, just after sunrise! Cheeky buggers!

.who’s that?We walked out of the park, slightly smelly (ok, so we stank, but that’s not abnormal :)). Caught a bus back to our bikes. I think this may be the first bus or car since Santiago. A few weeks months at least. Jumped on, and rode less than a kilometer before realising we were actually pretty tired, camped behind the ranger station.

One more day on the bike to reach Puerto Natales and the dreamed of food and bed. There were few complaints at the time, but apparently I was riding too fast. Yeah? Well, I was tired and hungry and over cycling for a few days. So I may have jumped in front of the group and just headed for town.
Sabine: “Would you have stopped for lunch if we hadn’t?”
The Strange Australian Animal: “Nope”
Can you believe the names I’m being called?

And now we are here, only 700km to Ushuaia. Well fed, rested, and apparently not leaving until Friday. Why so long? Because Stefan and Sabine want to rest. So why don’t I leave them and go on alone? Don’t ask stupid questions. They came up with the idea for a chocolate fondue. Why would I leave people like that? And secretly I don’t mind stalling a bit longer. When I get to the end of the road I have to turn around and come up with a new target.

Now. The chocolate has worn off. Where do they keep the seafood and chicas around here…

Puerto Natales

4 03 2008

We’ve survived Torres del Paine. Now the group, Michiel, Stefan and Sabine are putting our feet up. We’ve been looking forward to good food, or at least lots of food, for about a week.

Michiel is leaving us here – heading north. For some reason he doesn’t like the sound of 700km of flat, windy, road to Ushuaia. A town who’s main distinction is that it is a long way from anywhere. I don’t know why.

More about Torres del Paine and the road from El Calafate… soon.

Perito Moreno Glacier

19 02 2008

Possibly one of the more touristy parts of Southern Pategonia. But I am a tourist, so I had to go and see what all the fuss is about.

The last update was in El Chaltén. From there we had a ride around two (big) lakes to El Calafate. The wind is more often than not a strong westerly. Going east is no drama. The second day we had to turn right, into the teeth of this wind. Four reasonably strong cyclists, sharing the lead, and we could only make 10km/h. 30km took over 3 hours. This is the famous Patagonian wind. All the stories we’ve heard are true – and there’s about 1000km of this!

I’ve now said good-bye to Jürg and Rahel. They’ve decided to move on a bit quicker from El Calafate (involving buses) to reach Ushuaia and go to Australia to meet more excellent people like me. What more can I say? Except possibly the truth: that they are keen to meet Jürg’s sister while she is also visiting Australia. Good luck getting there in time!

But I’ve met, and spent a few days with Stefan and Sabine, and along with Michiel, we’re a group of four again. So it’s the Germans, Dutch and Ozzie (stupid Australian who can only speak English) rolling on. I should have learnt German rather than Spanish before starting this trip…

11kBut anyway, the glacier. It’s 80km from El Calafate, Porito Morenoso we rode there. To avoid the wind, we left pretty early, but not early enough. About 1 hour into the ride, the famous patagonian wind sprung up, and we were struggling to make a decent speed. We did a good job of hiding behind each other, and made the glacier about midday. We spent the whole afternoon watching. You may think that watching a glacier speed along at up to 2m per day could be a little dull and I have possibly miraculously developed patience. Don’t worry, it’s nothing like that. The glacier calves often, and quite often they are big chunks that come off. We were treated to a few big crashes.
crash 1crash 2

The sound (when the tourists have cleared off – some people just do not shut up!) is really quite impressive. With the sun on it, you can hear the tourtured ice creaking and groaning. The pieces that fall off the leading edge are not really all that frequent, but there is sometimes a sharp crack (anywhere from the sound of a firework being launched, through a door slamming, to a bloddy loud bang, like a gunshot). The glacier feels so close, but it is still far enough away that by the time the sound reaches the lookout, the piece of glacier has fallen about 60m to the water, so searching for falling ice by ear alone is a frustrating experience. You’ve got to keep your eyes peeled! We argued discussed the distance we were from the glacier at one point – I think it was about 150m. I guess we could work it out (speed of sound, time taken for ice to fall 60m). Nerd.

Marco and the gangBy chance we met a great Guardaparque, Marco, who ecouraged us to talk up his knowledge on the web pages. And not talk about the excellent nights sleep we may have got close to the glacier, since it is after all illegal to camp in the park. We didn’t camp – how we got around the situation I will not say, but Marco allowed us to cook in his hut. Nice guy. Really. And we got to see the glacier in the morning sunlight as well (not really for sunrise, it was raining and snowing when we woke the first time – bugger that just for a photo!).

The wind helped on the return journey. 30km/h easily. Depending on the wind, the next part could be very long, or very short. A few rest days in Calafate right now – soon to be heading toward Torres del Paine and maybe a week or so of walking.